While watching the Augusta Masters Golf Tournament, I wondered how many pro golfers other than Greg Norman have ventured into the wine business. After all, rock stars and celebrities have had their names on bottles for years. It’s not surprising that golfers have been throwing their grapes — or names — into the barrels.
This month, Saluté takes a look at golf legends whose wines have achieved a par or better. Just like a round of golf at a luxury resort, though, these wines can be expensive — and they probably will not improve your golf game.
Greg Norman wines are ubiquitous. No matter what size store — from big warehouse clubs to exclusive wine shops — you can find the Greg Norman Estates label. A native of Australia, Norman launched his winery in 1996, making him one of the first pro golfers to delve into the wine business.
Nicknamed “The Shark” after the 1981 Masters Tournament, Norman brought his zeal for attacking life and golf to his wine business. Three of his wines have been named to Wine Spectator’s Top 100 Wines of the World list, with the 1998 Greg Norman Reserve Shiraz achieving No. 8 in the world status. Over the years, 13 of his wines have received 90 or more points from Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast magazines. More than 30 of his wines have received 88 or 89 points, which also are indicators of a good wine.
While Norman began with Australian wines, he has ventured into other wine regions. He offers pinot noir and cabernet sauvignon from Califonia and a malbec from Argentina. It’s still a cool Australian chardonnay that I prefer after a round of golf.
Wines from Greg Norman Estates are affordable with prices beginning at about $15 for his chardonnays and shirazes.
Arnold Palmer Wines may not be as easy to find as Greg Norman’s because they target high-end restaurants, resorts and wine shops. However, we cannot ignore “The King,” one of the sport’s greatest legends.
According to bartender Lexie Whitlock at Palmer Legends Country Club in The Villages, the wines are fairly popular at the restaurant bearing his name. Both the cabernet and the chardonnay are sold there for $6 a glass or $22 a bottle. Joyce Huey, owner of Two Old Hags Wine Shoppe in Leesburg, has carried the wine and can order it on special request.
Although media outlets like Wine Spectator have not rated the wines, they sell out quickly in shops and online wine stores. Wine.com already has sold out of the 2013 cabernet, as well as several other vintages. Palmer’s fans seem to be voting with their dollars.
Palmer collaborated with longtime friend Mike Moone, the founder of Napa Valley’s Luna Vineyards, to develop Arnold Palmer Wines in 2003. Their first offerings — a cabernet sauvignon and a chardonnay — were released in the spring of 2005. Arnold Palmer Wines are made with grapes sourced from select vineyards in California’s most acclaimed wine growing regions.
“Since I partnered up with Luna, I’ve had a reason to be more involved with wine,” Palmer said on his wine website. “I’ve learned something about the process and it’s fun to think that you are part of something you enjoy so much.”
After traveling around the world and tasting some of the best wines on the planet, South African golfer Ernie Els decided to pursue his passion for fine wine with the creation of Ernie Els Wines in 1999. He based his operation in Stellenbosch, the noble heart of the South African wine region.
He formed a partnership with winemaker Jean Engelbrecht and their first vintage, a signature Bordeaux blend, received the highest Wine Spectator rating (93) in South African wine history. The Ernie Els still is the flagship wine produced by the Engelbrecht-Els partnership, and it retails for $95 or more.
Els’ most affordable labels are the “Big Easy” varietals, which begin at around $20 for the Big Easy White, a chenin blanc, and the Big Easy Red, a blend of syrah and cabernet sauvignon. The name is a nod to Els, whose nickname was a result of his easy-going manner off the course with a fluid, yet powerful, swing on the course. The Big Easy labels are bold in flavor, but easy in demeanor — great for cooling down at the 19th hole.
If you ever get to Els’ winery in South Africa, you even can step up to the tee-box there and participate in a chipping competition on the last Friday and Saturday of each month. Remember, though, as Els has been quoted as saying, “Golf is like wine. In both endeavors, nature has the last ruling.”